Something special happened on April 3, 1961, in Brooklyn, New York.
Edward Regan Murphy was born, destined to become one of the funniest comedians, one of the best impressionists and an outstanding actor. A pretty good singer too.
Murphy first came to the general public’s attention in 1980 when he was recruited for the cast of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live.” He played a key role in making 1980 to 1984 among the best periods in the perennial show’s long history.
Among the highlights: two devastating impressions of James Brown, a just-as-perfect one of Bill Cosby, the re-introduction of “Buckwheat” from “The Little Rascals,” a hilarious imitation of Michael Jackson, and a “spot-on” impression of Bob Marley.
Ditto for his Jesse Jackson, a side-splitting combination of Richard Simmons and Little Richard, a “ghetto-ized” send-up of “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” plus an array of original characters, including “Velvet Jones,” the pimp who wrote books such as “Kicked in the Butt By Love” and “How To Be a Hoe.”
Interestingly, because he eventually grew tired of people asking him to “do Buckwheat,” Murphy had the character killed in an “SNL” episode. Some felt it was in poor taste, but a point was nevertheless made.
EDDIE MURPHY has the distinction of being the second-highest grossing actor in the United States.
The box office bonanza includes “48 Hours,” “Trading Places,” the “Beverly Hills Cop” series, “Coming to America,” “Harlem Nights,” “Boomerang,” “The Nutty Professor” and “Dreamgirls.”
His current big-screen offering is “A Thousands Words.”
Granted, there were several misfires, but the hits were so massive that the non-successes are almost unimportant in the greater scheme of things.
He also provided voices in films, most notably in “Shrek” and the sequel. He will do the same in “Honk Kong Phooey” which is currently in pre-production.
Murphy’s comedic style is as distinctive as his laugh, and just as he was influenced by Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby and Robin Williams, to name a few, so have others who came along after him been similarly influenced.
SOME PEOPLE seem to have show business in their blood — one or both parents are or were in the entertainment field.
That is only true with Eddie Murphy in a broad sense in that his father was an amateur actor. But Charles Murphy made his living as a transit police officer. His wife, Lillian, was a telephone operator. And certainly there was no comedy in the bloodline.
The young and ambitious Eddie Murphy, who is from Chicago, got his feet wet as a stand-up comedian in a comedy club in the San Franciso Bay Area, the same club, in fact, that Whoopi Goldberg and Robin Williams honed their craft.
Murphy was funny, but all too often his material was what could only be described as crude, as well as insensitive to gay people, Whites, overweight people, etc. This was even pointed out by an unlikely source — Richard Pryor.
Murphy later apologized for his insensitivity, just as Pryor later denounced use of the word “nigger.”
Having conquered stand-up comedy and television, movies was the natural next step.
MURPHY MADE his big screen debut in 1982 in “48 Hours,” co-starring Nick Nolte. That movie opened whole new vistas for the rising star who proved to be a natural as an actor.
In addition to the movies already cited, Murphy starred in, among others, “Another 48 Hours,” “The Distinguished Gentleman,” “Vampire in Brooklyn,” “Holy Man” and “Bowfinger.”
Although he has been nominated for and won many awards, Murphy reached the apex with the 2006 film “Dreamgirls” in which he portrayed the James Brown inspired character James “Thunder” Early. He won, among others, a Golden Globe Award and a Screen Actors Guild Award and was nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Supporting Actor category, an award he was widely expected to win.
There is talk of there being a film made on the life and career of James Brown, and if it happens, Eddie Murphy, now 51, says he is ready to assume the lead role. But he said, jokingly yet seriously, that it would have to be made soon if he is to be expected to do splits.
As his acting star was rising, Murphy decided to venture into the world of recording, and did so with the same enthusiasm and expectation of success. (“I’ve always had confidence,” he has said.)
Murphy recorded five musical albums and had two Top 10 singles, “Party All the Time” and “Put Your Mouth on Me.”
Although success has come in every field he has entered, do not expect Eddie Murphy to retire anytime soon, if ever. But slowing down somewhat…that’s another matter.
“I’m relaxed about my career now,” he said. “I’ve earned the right to relax.”